Perfect Blue Review and Analysis – Satoshi Kon’s most twisted movie that is too good to pass up
Perfect Blue is awe-inspiring, phenomenal, and groundbreaking. It is also dark and dirty. Satoshi Kon was a man engrossed with duality, more specifically the concept of time and space. He revolutionized what could be done with animation. He’s always seemed like a creator who intensely focused on examining what it is to exist in two separate states of being. His obsession with duality can be seen in his many works, and the best example of this is in his 1997 debut film, Perfect Blue.
Perfect Blue is arguably one of the best-animated feature film psychological thrillers that you will ever watch. It displays an eerie portrayal of the life of an ex-idol, a nightmare-ish look at the duality that exists between her identities as the real person and her persona. It will successfully manage to keep you on edge not only due to its mature theme and compelling mystery but also Kon’s innovative style of editing. The film doesn’t shy away from the pain and agony that comes from being a celebrity – showing explicit detail scenarios and ghastly moments significant to the film. With all that and its spine-chilling twist, Perfect Blue permeates you – leaving you thinking and reevaluating about it for days on end.
The heroine of this story is Mima Kirigoe, an idol singer in a trio called CHAM who decides to leave the band in order to pursue a serious acting career. Some of her fans are not happy with her decision, especially the die-hard ones, who later begin stalking and harassing her. There is also some deeper and darker part inside herself that has no desire to let her move on from her past self, due to the burden as a rookie actress as she embarks on her new direction. Because of the little options of gaining more traction, the agency she is in eggs her on to be in a rape scene to boost her career. She eventually submits to the pressure and agrees to do it although that is surely damaging her persona. The stress they put her into slowly takes a huge toll on her state of mind.
These conflicting feelings soon manifest themselves in the physical form of a spirit-like doppelganger dressed in Mima’s old pop idol costume, who begins to appear in her vision and starts to intrude her average day in a creepy way that only Kon could carry out. As Mima begins to chase this figment, reality starts to crumble, and what’s real and what’s not soon become almost indistinguishable as scenes bleed into one another. Mima ends up losing her grasp on who she actually is, her real self or her persona, and what her life is about, all the while simultaneously being pursued by her violent stalker.
Instead of following the standard aesthetic style of 90’s anime, with big eyes and bold features, Perfect Blue has a more realistic quality to it. Most of the characters are mainly regular people with a rather plain and ordinary design, whereas the ones who stand out as being attractive or beautiful are those who have professions such as celebrity or pop idols which is not at all different from our world. We are presented with a very relatable and real-world settings in Perfect Blue, with such familiar atmosphere, this movie is capable to pull us into its whirlwind of psychedelic scenario because when things start to go sideways it will be harder to distance ourselves from it.
The film establishes Mima as a character so perfectly. In its 90 minutes of runtime, the film never fails to characterize Mima as an actual person, without clumsy exposition or forced dialogue. Mima is a young girl who moves to Tokyo in an effort to fulfill her dreams of becoming a singer. She and her group are shown to be still struggling to make it big in the industry. That’s why outside her life as an idol, Mima is just another everyday person with a normal lifestyle. The dual nature of her life is shown through match cuts as the animation switches back and forth between an energetic pop sequence of her performing on stage to a simple, quiet, nearly mundane shots of her picking up groceries and living out her day-to-day life.
After a hectic performance as an idol, we get to see who she actually is by watching a nearly four minutes long sequence of Mima in her apartment by herself. The surroundings and details that adorn her room create a level of subtle intimacy and familiarity with the character; the poster, the fish tank, stuffed animals placed on her bed, clothes hanging in the corner, and other ornaments and stuffs that make her a real person who everyone can relate to. The start of the movie is designed to put our guards down, the familiarity and the calm setting of her routine successfully serves as a great setup for an unsettling scare later on.
Although the title is Perfect Blue, but red encompasses every facet of the film. The color becomes more apparent especially when things start to go wrong, notably shown in a scene when she reads a website called Mima’s Room which is a fan-made diary about Mima, that strangely very similar to what really happened to her. As she realizes what’s happening, the strong, bright red engulfs Mima’s face as the story reveals one of its biggest shocks. This also marks the more dominant red later. Afterward, the scene neatly shifts into another important sequence, Mima’s acting role in a drama series called Double Bind. It’s important to note that what’s happening in the series directly references or mirrors what’s happening in Mima’s life. It’s this kind of confusion between what’s real and what isn’t that Perfect Blue gradually builds on as the film progresses. There’s a change of color as well around her environment as her life grows increasingly darker— the tone becomes heavier and saturated, to one point it gets overwhelming, bathing her in deeply intense hues; like the staggeringly lit strip club scene in which Mima must perform a horrid rape scene.
Perfect Blue tackles the issues of fan culture, the dark side of the entertainment industry, as well as how technology plays a big role in those aspects. As a J-POP Idol, there is this pure and innocent image that Mima has to preserve. However, after she becomes an actress, she is heavily sexualized. Not only she should act out the gruesome rape scene, but she also has to be photographed as a nude model later. This new image of Mima doesn’t sit well with her old fans, who mostly are disappointed. Mima is not happy either, in fact, when she is alone by herself in her room she expresses her outrage at being portrayed that way and this is the primary fear that Perfect Blue conveys— people perceiving us in ways that we don’t choose and the people around us who cannot accept the change, in this case, the fans.
As the story goes, Mima’s identity is slowly blurred to the point that she becomes unsure anymore of what she is, or who she is, or if she’s actually real. At this rate, she begins to undergo mental collapse and unable to separate between her role as an actress, her idol persona, or her real self. Satoshi Kon’s mind-bending editing had distorted space and time not only for Mima but for viewers as well. The film is entirely told from her sole perspective, so when her view of reality starts to spin, we are also drawn into this jumble of a narrative through flawless transitions between scenes, surrealistic visuals, skewed perspective, and seemingly disorganized storytelling.
The film spirals into a mash-up of indistinguishable scene changes, match cuts, overlapping dialogue, highly saturated tone, and repetitive shots. Kon’s intention is to present some sequences as if they were part of Mima’s life only for it to turns out to be the scenes from the TV show she’s acting in. There are even scenes where we are led to believe that Mima’s doppelganger takes on a life on its own and performs with CHAM, and that part involving one brutal murder which is conducted by none other than Mima herself, we witness her finally succumb to madness and kill her nude photographer with a screwdriver. The movie will leave us as confused as our protagonist is and have no idea of what’s actually happening.
The real danger, however, emerges in the form of an obsessive stalker, Mr. Me-Mania. A character who appears from the beginning of the movie when he helps out at the CHAM concert. Kon managed to produce many iconic shots, some of them are very impactful they got adapted in certain Hollywood movies, like the shattering glass in Paprika and the bathtub scene in Perfect Blue. But this single shot of Me-Mania holding the image of Idol Mima directly in his hand, focusing on her as the edges of his vision fades away is also as potent as the others, because based on this alone, Kon portrays everything we need to know about this character; how he sees Mima not as a person but as an avatar. This fan believes in the made-up concept Mima and the industry created for her, and when the very notion of idol Mima is snatched away by Mima’s shift in career and her new role, he responds violently by stalking and attacking those around her who contribute to that change. He’s also the one responsible for Mima’s Room, making a self-indulgent diary pretending to be Mima as a result of his inability to handle that the perception of the fictional avatar he built up in his head doesn’t match the real-life person. In a way, no matter how twisted and sick it is, this is something that is heavily relatable and very likely to happen, as it did occur before.
Perfect Blue offers you a false sense of security, when you think the story begins to slow down, the Rumi plot-twist is revealed. Rumi is Mima’s manager. Much like like her, Rumi shows duality in herself and with Mima. She’s an ex-pop idol who for most of the film is unable to give up on the life that she was presumably forced to let go of, so she embodies herself in Mima idol avatar to make up for the ambition she can no longer achieve. She sees herself as both Rumi the manager and the so-called real Mima-rin, the pop idol identity that the real Mima divest herself off at the beginning of the film. Rumi is shown to be running off in tears during the rape scene – the moment when Mima-rin idol persona is metaphorically killed off, leading to Rumi’s eventually take over that identity, trying to get rid of anyone who stands in the way of the heavily curated and innocent reputation of Mima-rin.
Perfect Blue isn’t just a movie but a story to be experienced and what this kind of filmmaking does is put us right in Mima’s shoes; for us, the line between illusion and reality begins to blur as Mima’s life start to spiral into a whirlwind of disembodied events. Despite being Kon’s debut film, he managed to portray the struggle of an ex-idol pop trying to get a hold of her life so perfectly by means of compelling visual and haunting score, inducing a horror atmosphere and nightmare Mima goes through.
Perfect Blue ages like fine wine. It is more relevant now, especially in an era where social media is prevalent, than it ever was back in the 90s. Even after more than two decades since its initial release, this movie still hits all the spots of toxic fans and celebrity culture that we are still dealing with today. It’s more real, more plausible – and more importantly, it could very well happen to you. Unsettling yet artistic in its presentation, the story intercutting the real and the surreal seamlessly, it effortlessly draws you into Mima’s crooked sense of reality. It’s brutal, violent, and unpleasant, but it’s also clever, thoughtful, and beautiful in its approach.